HC Deb 16 April 1913 vol 51 cc2027-35

Section 115 of the Army Act of 1881 shall be amended by omitting therefrom all reference to the requisitioning of animals and horses.


I beg to move, "That the Clause he read a second time."

My object in moving this Clause is not to prevent the War Office from getting their horses, but to obtain from the Secretary of State a statement with regard to the census of horses. This census is a somewhat new idea, but I think it is a most valuable mode of enabling the Army authorities to find out where the horses of the country are. If, however, you are to have a census, it ought to comprise such details as the age of the horse, whether the horse is sound or not, whether it is fit for heavy or light draught or for riding, and certainly some clue as to the value of the horse. It is no good including in the census a horse worth £200 or £300 when the price usually paid by the Army authorities is about £40. To get these particulars you must employ someone who knows a good deal about horses. It should not necessarily be a veterinary surgeon, but I think some private individual would be the best person to appoint. It, must certainly be someone who knows more about a horse than the mere fact that it has four legs and a tail. I wish to put these questions to the Secretary of State. First, are the persons who at present make the census experts in the sense of being able to make an authoritative statement as to the character and description of a horse? Secondly, what details does the census furnish? Does it contain particulars such as those that I have indicated? If the answer to the first question is in the negative, will the Secretary of State take steps, as soon as he can get the necessary money from the Treasury, to appoint for the purpose of taking the census persons who are really experts in the matter? I do not think that the expense would be very great, but unless the census is made by experts it will be absolutely worthless in time of war.


I venture to intervene in this Debate now because I made some observations on this very subject when the Army Estimates were before the House two or three weeks ago. The question raised by the hon. and learned Member relates to what His Majesty may do at a time of great emergency. I would like the hon. and learned Member to differentiate in his mind between what happens now in time of peace and what would happen in the case of a national emergency, when mobilisation took place. This provision in the Act of 1881 relates entirely to emergencies—that is to say, mobilisation. With regard to mobilisation, we have made arrangements whereby committees throughout the country are ready to go round and put into force the provision set forth under the Section to which the hon. and learned Member refers. In the great majority of cases they are admirable country gentlemen, men who are interested in horses, and have a knowledge about them. These are the people whom we trust, and I think the House would trust to select from among a large number of horses those which are of a character and condition to go to the front. With regard to the census of horses which we have just made for the purposes of peace-time, that is a totally different matter. I think the House may rest assured that the census has been carried out by competent men of the Territorial Force in a military manner.


I think my hon. Friend's point was as to who were the people responsible for the census, whether they were officers or gentlemen capable of telling a horse from a cow. As a matter of fact, I am told that a good deal of the classification has been done by Infantry officers. If that is the case, I would point out that not every officer in the Army is an expert on horses. There are many Infantry officers whom it is hardly possible to expect should know very much about horses, or have had any, or much, experience from a particular study of horses. I ask the Secretary of State to give some reply on this matter in relation to these officers and gentlemen who are sending the classification of various horses; it is a matter of very great importance.


In order that we may not go wrong in the future, I should say that this seems to me to be more a matter for Committee of Supply than for Amendment of a Bill. I have not understood anything in the speeches supporting a Motion that this reference to the registration of horses should be omitted from Section 115 of the Army Act.


On a point of Order. Am I not entitled, upon a Motion to eliminate horses from Section 115 (the provision as to requisition), to draw attention to what I suggest are defects in the present mode of requisitioning, and if these defects are not remedied, or a promise given to remedy them, to say that the horses should not he requisitioned at all? What I was going to ask the Secretary of State to explain is the difference between this census made for peace and made for war. I certainly did not follow at all the information as stated by the Under-Secretary. What I was really driving at was the census for an emergency, because under Section 115 there is a provision that you can go and take horses from different parts of the country wherever you can get them. That is quite right. My point was that in order that you should know where to he able to get suitable horses you should have a census made in peace-time by competent persons, so that when the emergency came upon us you would know what the horses were, where they were, and where to get them. I really do want the Secretary of State for War to tell us what steps he has taken in making up this census. If the people who have made it are only Territorial adjutants, then, with all respect to them, I venture to say that in nine cases out of ten they are probably not experts in horses. In the first place, you ought to appoint experts in horses to make up this census; and, in the second place, you should have a census for emergency purposes with such details as will enable those concerned to know what horses there are and where to get them.

Colonel SEELY

On the point of Order. We do not seem to come to a conclusion; but, by your leave, Mr. Chairman, I might answer the specific points put by the hon. and learned Gentleman which he thinks have not been made clear by my hon. Friend. He asks us what steps, in fact, have been taken in regard to this census, and are those who have carried them out persons fit to carry them out? He asks, thirdly, if we have got that information which will make us reasonably certain in an emergency that when Section 115 of the Army Act conies into operation we shall get the horses we require? My hon. Friend rightly drew a distinction between actual action taken in an emergency, say, on a declaration of war, and steps being taken in peace time in order to ensure that our position shall be effective. My hon. Friend told the House that arrangements had been made to ensure that the knowledge we obtain from the census shall be usefully and wisely applied, so that, for instance, we shall not, as has been suggested—perhaps not in tins Debate, but it was certainly suggested last year—take steps that would lead to the taking of a very valuable race-horse, so that we may find ourselves, owing to the decision of the County Court Judge, liable to pay £300, £400, or £500 for a horse, though in fact it would be no more fitted for our purposes of war than a horse valued at £50. We have those arrangements made to which my right hon. Friend referred, and I need not therefore now deal further with respect to machinery. As to the question of how far the census of horses enables us to know what horses we have, and whether our arrangements are satisfactory, I am glad to say that in the opinion of my advisers that a very real advance has been made. In justice to hon. Gentlemen opposite I cannot help saying that the force of their criticism as directed against our arrangements—the criticism, too, was not all on one side—was no doubt of great value in forcing us to take steps still further to perfect our arrangements. The well-directed criticism of the House of Commons is valuable. In regard to the officers selected who have been and are still performing this duty, in the first instance, as the Committee knows, the police made the census. That was a very valuable one, and just gave us the amount of information we primarily needed. From that census we learnt that there were an ample number of horses. The next thing to know was whether there was enough of a particular stamp. We proceeded to take a further census. That was taken and will be continued to a large extent by experts of the Remount Department. To have had special officers to take the census everywhere would have involved a very large expense, and a very large increase of staff, which I do not think the House would have thought justifiable. We have ensured that we had expert officers to take this census to ensure, broadly speaking, that we have a reasonably complete knowledge of the stamp of horses we are going to get. We have found that there is an ample supply for the purposes of mobilisation of all classes of horses except one, and that is light draft horses. For this purpose we have, as the Committee will remember, obtained Treasury sanction for a scheme on a considerable scale…


I really must prevent this discussion from following the line it is taking. It has become more and more clear to me that this is a matter for Committee of Supply. In Committee of Supply we must not discuss legislation, and the converse also holds good; when discussing legislation we must not trench on questions proper to Committee of Supply.

Colonel SEELY

I apologise for having transgressed your ruling. I fell into the mistake, because of the courteous note sent me by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who was anxious for the information. I will give it him on some other occasion. I will conclude by saying that we have carried out satisfactorily—and I can give my reasons on a proper occasion—the points which he has brought to the notice of the House. I would like to make an appeal that we should get on with the Clauses now, so that we should get the Third Reading.

Question put, and negatived.

Bill reported, without Amendments.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."


On a previous occasion I brought a certain point to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman in respect to the question of horses. He gave me then an undertaking, or he promised that he would, when possible, communicate the basis upon which he proposed to take the horses in the various places. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for a long time, and I am pretty certain that when he gives an undertaking of that kind he always does his best to carry it out. I appreciate very much what he has done towards this matter in view of the fact that he has been so much engaged upon working out a complete scheme of horse mobilisation. I quite understand he may have found difficulties in making these communications to various firms, but I can see no reason why he ought not to give this information now. This scheme has been worked out, and I think the House will appreciate that when an owner of a certain number of light draught horses which has been inspected by some Army officer or by somebody appointed by the War Office, and found suitable for Army purposes—such a man may have a hundred horses—and he has no conception how many of these horses are to be taken on mobilisation, that if possible he should be given some idea. At the present time I know certain firms who have applied to the War Office and asked for some documentary guarantee that only a certain percentage of their horses will be taken. The War Office has hitherto been unable to see their way to give this guarantee. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this is a mistaken policy on the part of the War Office. The right hon. Gentleman has just told us that they have found ample horses in the country for riding purposes and for heavy draught purposes, and that their shortage is in light draught horses. The firms that I am thinking of are firms who employ light draught horses for the purposes of their business. I know certain firms who are seriously contemplating changing their light draught vehicles to motors in order to carry on their business.

8.0 P.M.

The reason is this, and they have told me so, that if there is a scare or rumour of war, it makes people think very much, if there should be a mobilisation, how fair it will affect their business, and they therefore turn their thoughts to motors. I cannot see, in these circumstances, why the right hon. Gentleman would not say to a firm with 100 horses, "I guarantee not to take more than 55 or 50 per cent., and I will not touch the other 50 per cent. until all other available sources are exhausted." Then a man would know exactly where he is, and he could make arrangements for his business accordingly. But it does not please him to be at the mercy of the collecting officer who very naturally does not care about the man's business but cares for the best interests of the Army. The officer may find a few horses short in one place, and he will then very naturally take what he finds in another place. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, as this is a matter of policy as well as fairness, that a good many of these firms who own these light draught horses, should have a guarantee that only a certain percentage of their animals should be taken on mobilisation, and that the War Office should give them that guarantee, and thereby allow them to make proper arrangements for the carrying on of their business


We discussed on the Committee stage of this Bill, the price which should be paid to licensed victuallers for the accommodation and feeding of troops. Section 108 "A" of the Army Act, states what should be paid on mobilisation, and settles the prices for the licensed victualler; but when the Territorial Force is mobilised, it will be billeted, not upon licensed victuallers, but in private houses, and I want to know from the Secretary of State what price is to be paid to the private citizen, as distinct from the licensed victualler for the accommodation and feeding of the Territorial Force. As far as I can make out, there is no scale fixed. He says the price has been fixed by regulation made by the Army Council with the consent of the Treasury, but I should like to know the price to be paid by the ordinary citizen for the keep of these men, and whether it is to be the same price as what we paid to the licensed victualler.


I wish to know if the Secretary of State for War is satisfied with the inspection and registration of horses, and that it is being properly carried out? I think in some parts of the country it is done in a very perfunctory manner. I think the point raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite is an important one, and that the registration of horses should be carried out in a way that we may know exactly the kind of animals available, and how many there are of them.


On five or six previous occasions we tried to persuade the Secretary of State for War to adopt some principle that would make it more easy for promotion from the ranks. I am very pleased that, upon the seventh occasion of asking, the Secretary of State has done something to meet the wishes of the civil representatives in this House; and while I certainly thank him for what he has done and for the direction in which his policy is proceeding, it is not even yet all that one would expect from a democratic Government. The whole matter so far depends upon the commanding officer's recommendation.


I see nothing about this in the Army (Annual) Act. We are not in Committee of Supply, and the principle which the hon. Member for Stoke wishes to debate can only be raised in Committee of Supply, or on some occasion when the administrative action of the Department is under criticism.


I understood from the statements of the two hon. Gentlemen as to the collection and census of horses, and that being an administrative matter, that my observation would be equally in order. Probably I did wrong in following on their lines, but I will not continue, and I would proceed to deal with the matter that may be in order, and that is, to allude for a moment to a subject which I touched on previously. An hon. Gentleman opposite said he was quite sure that, so far as my opinion went, it did not represent in the slightest degree the opinion of the rank and file of the Army upon the subject we were discussing a little while ago. He thought probably that he was better able to gauge the opinion of the common soldier than I can. So far as that is concerned, I venture to say I have at least as good an opportunity of knowing what is the opinion of the ordinary soldier in these matters as most Members of the House. I say that, first of all, from the slight connection I myself have with the forces of the Crown, and, next, because I receive an immense amount of correspondence from soldiers, largely, I expect, because of the attitude I adopt in these debates. And not only do I receive this correspondence from private soldiers, but also from officers on this and other subjects. They are very interesting to me, and if I could get some of those who speak for the officers to really know the opinions expressed to me, it would rather surprise them to learn how very often the Service Members of the House do not represent the views of their own class upon these matters. I venture to say there is no real opposition to civil Courts for the trial of cases in times of peace. Officers who try cases of soldiers are not the kind of men one would expect to take the ordinary methodical care than a Court of Law takes when dealing with these matters. It is quite impossible to get officers in the Army to conduct investigations in the elaborate, slow, and even painful manner which one observes in the ordinary Courts of the country. I suggest to Service Members of this House that soldiers are not perfectly satisfied to be tried by military courts in times of peace.

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present…


As a matter of fact, there were forty Members present all the time.

Colonel SEELY

I shall certainly bear in mind the points raised by the hon. Baronet (Sir Samuel Scott). A good deal has been done already in accordance with the promise I made, but we have not done so much as we hope ultimately to do with a view of removing the very natural discontent felt by the owners of these particular horses. It would be rather difficult to reply to the several points raised by hon. Members in view of your ruling, Mr. Whitley, that these matters could be more properly raised in Committee of Supply. I therefore propose to send hon. Members a memorandum in reply to their points. In reply to the questions asked by the hon. Member (Mr. Ashley), I think he will see that the amounts to be paid in connection with the Territorial Force have to be fixed by regulation. I can assure him we will see to it that the allowance will be reasonable.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.

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